Building a Glitch-Free Christ-Follower

A few years ago I made the mistake of offering to build a computer for a friend. I bought all the components and assembled them carefully, routing the connecting wires for a neat appearance and efficient air flow. But that was the easy part. Correctly installing and configuring the CPU and motherboard required a careful reading of the Instruction Manual.

But even that was easy compared to the task of building and equipping effective disciples of Christ. Unlike building a computer, much of the hard work falls to the one being built. We absolutely must study God’s Instruction Manual to achieve our most glitch-free performance. Contained in that Instruction Manual are sixty-six books, ghost-written by forty people from three continents over roughly 2000 years. Maybe I should say, “Holy Ghost-written,” as God’s eternal Word is the one true Author.

If the Bible seems too daunting as life’s Instruction Manual, God’s New Testament offers some concise summaries of how Christ-followers should behave. One such summary is contained in chapter twelve of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Here are a few key verses:

Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

The apostle refers here to his brief essay on genuine, spiritual love in 1 Corinthians 13, with emphasis on verses four and following. If you haven’t read it in a while, it’s time you prayerfully review. As far as the second half of this verse, remember what Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.

Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;

 I’m afraid that doesn’t leave much room for factions, jealousy and power-plays. The practice of showing deference to others, especially to those with whom we don’t click, has largely gone out of style. Our lives and interactions today are all about our personal rights, while we leave our responsibilities flapping in the breeze.

Rom 12:11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

The Christian life is necessarily proactive. Maintaining that diligence, fervency and servant spirit takes constant effort.

Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,

These are three essential works of faith, without which we will die on the Vine.

Rom 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Everyone loves to hear preaching on generous giving (NOT!). The saints’ needs are as critical today as when Apostle Paul wrote these words, so where is our joy of giving? It has disappeared in our desire to accumulate things and live comfortably. I dare say we could all give much more generously if we would just deny ourselves a few nonessentials. Do we really need frequent dinners out? Does every driver in the family need their own car? Is that home theater truly an essential possession? And what about snow cats, motorcycles, RVs, and vacation homes? Nothing is wrong with having such things, as long as having them remains secondary to helping the needy.

As for practicing hospitality, I stand as guilty as anyone for neglecting it.

Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

We’re emotional beings, so when some jerk cuts us off in traffic our fleshly impulse is to think or say unkind things about them. Does that not sound like persecution? Just because it’s not an overt challenge because of our faith doesn’t mean it isn’t.

Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Let’s keep these actions in their appropriate places. We must feel with people, and certainly not tell them that what they are feeling is unnecessary, wrong or inappropriate. Simply sharing their joy or grief seems like it should be a simple thing. Why then do we always think we have to fix it?

Rom 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

The same mind as whom? Obviously, that refers to Christ Jesus, because He was never haughty and always associated with the lowly. We church people too often offend in respect too esteeming our personal wisdom too highly, so anyone who disagrees with us is just wrong, pure and simple.

Rom 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

This reinforces verse fourteen’s difficult point. Today’s worldly doctrine tell us that we must fully vent our emotions and let our heart lead. God’s word doesn’t prohibit emotional display, but we must keep a positive, uplifting and redemptive bearing. Of course we won’t always feel that way, but that doesn’t mean we can shoot off our emotional mouths when the impulse hits.

The second half of this verse refers to Paul’s statements in Romans 14, about respecting the weak brother’s beliefs for his sake, and not your own. You can’t please everyone all the time, so this is calls for spiritual discernment.

Rom 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Disclosure time: Here is my personal weak area. When I cause a grievance, especially with a brother, the resulting guilt crushes me, stealing my peace and leaving me in a general funk. That’s not what God calls for here. We must not take too much relational responsibility upon ourselves, but accept, and repent of, what falls to our account.

Follow these instructions and you will find yourself more closely resembling Christ’s attitudes of love for others.

Not Me!

1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

I often wonder if church-goers can actually read. Here, in the plainest language possible, Apostle Paul warns the Corinthians, and all of us, to avoid the drama of prideful attitudes. Yet, isn’t that well-earned reputation one of the things that keeps people out of church? Lousy attitudes have burned uncountable people, turning them away from the fellowship of believers, and often, from Christ. Uncountable preachers have delivered uncountable sermons on the subject with precious little response from the pew-sitters. I think the astute observer would admit that any response to such messages comes mainly from already committed Christ-followers whose hearts are tender to conviction about any un-Christlike attitudes or behaviors in themselves. The balance of listeners think they aren’t really all that bad, or apply the message to “those who need it.” My prayer is that this won’t cause you to point your finger at anyone but yourself.

Baseline Christianity

Our Daily Bread came through again. This time with a reminder from Scripture of how we are to behave as followers of Christ.

Two senses: 1, Minimal behavior standards; 2, As in baseball, the path we must follow.

Tit 3:1-8 ESV
(1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
(2) to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(3) For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
(4) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
(5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
(6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
(7) so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(8) The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(1) Ungodly leaders can never take control without God’s permission, so whether or not we agree with our authority figures, we are obligated to obey them. The exception to that principle only applies when said authorities direct us to violate God’s clearly expressed teachings. Be careful, though, challenging the authorities requires godly discernment, and will be costly.

(2) Apostle James wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) But he also had much to say about the tongue’s evil potential in chapter three. People will rub us the wrong way, but God gives us no choice but to speak well of everyone, or keep our mouths shut.

(3) No one is a worse sinner than we were before we gave ourselves to Jesus. Oh, we may have done less heinous things, but sin is sin in God’s eyes.

(4-7) This speaks for itself; how can I improve on God’s Word? So, here’s another passage that reinforces this idea:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

(8) These divine directives aren’t optional. If we are truly saved, we will sincerely try to obey God’s Word. The idea of carnal Christians is a myth perpetrated by false teachers, catering to false believers. Those following Peter Pan religion, refusing to grow up in the Lord, are deceiving themselves. As we strive to follow Christ, we will make mistakes, even thoroughly blowing it occasionally, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.

If you are following Christ to the best of your ability, don’t let the enemy heap condemnation on you when you slip up. Apostle Paul said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1-2) Just remember, if you weren’t saved you wouldn’t feel grief when you wander off the baseline.

Pray consistently. Learn from God’s Word. Stay close to your Savior, and you’ll turn your base hit into an eternal home run.

Just Ask

The Humanist View of Knowledge

Confession time again; I often fail to tell God what I need because I expect Him to already know my needs, and know them better than I do.

Well, that is true; He knows my heart, my circumstances, my wants, and my needs, because He knows me perfectly, through and through. But I just realized (duh!) that one of Jesus’ miracles tells me a key truth about what He wants us to do when we need something. Mark 10:46-52 tells of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar whom Jesus found sitting by the road to Jericho.

Jesus asked him what he wanted. Now, I used to puzzle about why He would have to ask. I mean, Jesus is God, and knows everything, past, present and future. Right? So, why did Jesus have to ask what he needed? From what Jesus said when His disciples asked when He would return (Mark 13:32), I saw that Jesus could choose not to know something. Maybe He chose not to know Mr. B’s mind. Or, I think more likely, Jesus wanted him to confess his need so that when Jesus healed him, there would be no confusion about the power that did the deed.

Regardless of Jesus’ reason for doing that, He gave us a most valuable lesson in prayer. So:

(7) “(You must)Ask, and it will be given to you; (you must)seek, and you will find; (you must)knock, and it will be opened to you.
(8) “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
(9) “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?
(10) “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
(11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
Mat 7:7-11

Rwanda Genocide

A Hutu warrior

Yes, I realize this is a downer of a topic, but today’s guest preacher brought a vivid depiction of that horrible time, with a description of the extreme care that missionaries must exercise in bringing the gospel to those countries darkened by Communism’s and Islam’s bloody fists.

The church in Rwanda nearly suffered extinction during the genocide of 1994. The church in America is suffering right now, but only spiritually, from internal decay.

Jesus’ Revelation to John admonishes the Ephesian church:

Rev 2:1-5 NASB “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: (2) ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; (3) and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. (4) ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (5) ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.

This could have easily been addressed to the church in America. We have indeed toiled, but our toil is largely focused on our religious practice and maintaining an appearance of godliness while not seeking His power (2 Timothy 3:5). We have persevered,and even grown, but what credit is that when our trials are so trivial? Yes, we can’t tolerate evil men in the world, but we wink at sin in the church, especially among those who support it financially. And we readily follow false teachers who tickle our ears with pietistic platitudes and a social gospel.

I feel like both a broken record and a hypocrite as I hit the topic of the church’s sin so often, yet struggle with it personally. I mourn our having left our first love for religion’s seductive materialism. Yes, there is a remnant of vital saints, but they often aren’t the ones making the most noise in worship because of a moment’s emotional high. They’re the brethren who walk and speak their praise every waking moment, and not necessarily with religious-sounding rhetoric. They love every living thing, just as their Father does. They expend themselves in service to those who are unlovely, and even to family, when they reject their witness. They find their personal fulfillment in obeying their Savior’s Law of Love, rather than seeking worldly power and personal gratification.

I pray that God will grow me, and all His people, into that kind of saint. Only then will we fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission.

Caution! Lone wolves are always hungry.

Often I forget that sin is sin; despite our personal attitudes about sinful acts, there are no little sins or big sins. As I grew up Catholic, I embraced the teaching that mortal sins send us directly to hell when we croak (Do not pass GO! Do not collect 200 indulgences!), but venial sins only buy us a stay in purgatory. I suspect that’s the source of the church’s commonly held belief that there is a hierarchy of sins, and that God, in His Infinite Grace, will wink at our minor mistakes if we don’t majorly foul up.

God gave us an important conditional promise in Apostle John’s first letter to the church, bracketed by two statements that are essential to properly understanding the promise:

1Jn 1:8-10 NASB
(8) If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Please note that he didn’t discriminate between mortal and venial sins; we must confess all sin if we are to gain His forgiveness.

Perhaps I need to define the word, “Sin.” A dictionary might say, “Sin is a conscious transgression of God’s law.” As with most simple statements, however, its true meaning is anything but simple. Many volumes attempting to define that apparently simple three-letter word collect dust on library shelves, but I find another simple statement presents a principle that covers all sin: “I” is at the center of sin. Coincidentally, “I” is also at the center of pride. Think about it.

If we care enough about spending eternity with God to tread the sawdust trail, it only follows that we will care enough to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). I love that passage because it apparently contradicts the doctrine of grace, and because I know God’s Word never contradicts itself I feel compelled to either discover how it fits in, or simply take it on faith. That bothers me not in the least, because much of His Word seems incomprehensible to individual Christ-followers. Through His Holy Spirit, different passages are understood by, and speak to, different people. In fact, one important purpose of Christ’s Body is to corporately discern God’s full counsel. Lone-wolf believers are nearly always unbalanced in their personal beliefs because they lack that broader insight into God’s Word.

There, I finally worked around to my title for this piece.

Are You Veridical?

How do you respond when the spotlight of truth shines on you?

A natural reaction to my question would be, “What the heck is that?”

If I answered, “Why, it’s simply the product of my virtually endless vocabulary,” I would not be veridical; I would be a liar. Veridical is one of the words I’ve received from Dictionary dot com’s Word of the Day. This particular word is noteworthy because it succinctly encapsulates (okay, now I’m just showing off) a character trait that I long to embody, just like Jesus did.

An example of varidicality cites the George Washington mythos that has the six-year-old little man chopping down a cherry tree, and when his father Augustine challenges him about it, little George is reputed to have said, “I cannot tell a lie; I did cut it with my hatchet.” As he sported the very highest of manly character from an early age, his taking a swing at his father’s cherry tree seems unlikely indeed, though if he had, he certainly would have confessed it.

Speaking of confessions, I must not tell a lie: I am a natural a liar. Truth has always seemed a luxury I couldn’t afford when it would expose me to my actions’ consequences. Even since accepting Christ’s Lordship and realizing the necessity of truth-telling, the temptation to lie has plagued me. Temptation, however is not a sin, so when I feel that old urge to polish the truth just a smidge, the prospect of violating my Savior’s sacred trust repulses me.

Truth is such a rare commodity in this fallen world that it seems like a luxury when just a little white lie could smooth life’s path. When you’re tempted to to polish the truth, just remember what Jesus said to the self-righteous, religious Jews in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Notice how Jesus grouped lying with murder, for lying indeed murders the truth.

So, am I veridical? Truth be told, not at all in my own power. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

GREATER WORKS THAN JESUS?

Jesus heals the lame man at the pool.

John 14:12  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

Did Jesus know how these words would cause controversy among His sheep? As the universe’s eternal Creator, He had to.

Many will disagree with my opinion on this passage so I’ll get the outrage out of the way first, so I can tell you how I came to my conclusion; Jesus didn’t mean to say that individual believer’s miraculous works would in any way exceed His, after all, He is the ultimate source of power in the universe, so all of His followers’ works are done in His power. To say we can do greater miraculous works than He did is like saying the high tension wires leading away from a power plant have more power than the plant itself.

So, if He didn’t mean it that way, what did He mean?

Jesus is Father God’s divine Son who, as I’ve already said, created all things, both observable and invisible. For Him to restore limbs to the lame, sight to the blind and life to those who have died is no great feat. He possesses power for that and infinitely more. But when His followers perform the works that He took in His stride, such works are relatively far greater for us than they were for Him. Jesus knew who He was, so His faith required no leap at all. We, on the other hand, identify with Jesus only by faith, and not by sight.

I hope that explanation meets with your approval, even though God’s word doesn’t spell it out. Of course, I could be all wet, and Jesus meant exactly what our English translations say. Whether or not you accept my thoughts on the matter, you must believe in Jesus and accept His gospel if you hope to receive His eternal life.

UNASHAMED BECAUSE OF MERCY

Big Daddy Weave produced a song called Overwhelmed that included the lyrics, “And God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy …” I am eternally thankful for that saving mercy, but I can’t honestly say I’m unashamed; forgiven, but not unashamed. That begs the question of why I am ashamed, and for what.

Answering the “for what” part of that question would involve a lifetime of soul-searching and confession, but telling you why is relatively easy. I am ashamed because I’m not convinced that my life faithfully represents my Savior’s love and holiness.

Oh yes, by the world’s standard I’m suitably religious and moral. Most, in fact, consider me a nice guy, but in my quest to be Christ to my world I am an utter failure.

Does God judge me for my humanness? He already did, and that judgment fell on His Son, my Messiah Jesus Christ. (Romans 8)

THE HABIT OF ME

“Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

Philippians 2:1-5 ESV
(1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
(2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
(3) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(5) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

Meet one of the many Bible passages that cause me to be very conscious of the three fingers pointing back at myself (as opposed to one at someone else—the thumb doesn’t count). My first impulse upon reading this was to mentally accuse my grandkids of doing everything from selfish ambition or conceit, of being self-centered and divisive. Yet, when my first reaction to a Bible passage is to point the bony, judgmental finger at others, I am the greater offender.

Father, when my first thought is to apply correction to others, rather than to myself, please forgive me. I know better. Thank You for forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, for it’s in His name I pray.